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El Nino May Hit India Monsoon
Apr 05, 2014

According to weather officials, India may experience El Nino weather conditions—typically marked by less rainfall—during its most important crop sowing season this summer. There is an equal possibility of neutral as well as weak El Nino. A neutral El Nino implies normal weather conditions.

The Indian weather department would issue its monsoon forecast in the last week of April, but clarity on El Nino conditions would emerge latest by June.

El Nino is the abnormal warming of the Pacific Ocean that, because of the way these things work, causes moist winds to shift away from their more typical patterns, leading to less rainfall.

During the last monsoon season, India had received above normal levels of rainfall, helping boost farm output. But the output gains were partly hit by torrential rains in north India that caused floods and landslides. A burst of freak rainfall last month has also damaged some of the standing winter crop.

This is not the official monsoon forecast of India Meteorological Department (IMD), but the outlook prepared by the Pune-based Regional Climate Centre, which is a part of IMD. Forecasters from Australia, China, Korea and the US have issued El Nino warnings, but so far the Indian weather office has rubbished the concerns as western propaganda to rattle Indian markets.

Monsoon outlook is indeed sensitive for the economy and the market. Although the country has sufficient stock of food grain, a negative monsoon adversely affects the entire economy. In 2009, when an El Nino severely disrupted monsoon rains, India saw a sudden burst of food inflation, which continued relentlessly for years, forcing the Reserve Bank of India to keep interest rates high. Weak rainfall in the country in 2009 raised global sugar prices to the highest in decades, and this year the price of the sweetener in India, the world's second-largest producer, is already rising.

The forecast said weak El Nino conditions, which often disrupt rainfall in India, may develop by the middle of the year, coinciding with the June-September monsoon. During the season April to June, wetter-than-normal conditions are likely over most parts of India, Afghanistan, north Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, during the season May to July, normal to drier-than-normal conditions are likely over most parts of South Asia except extreme north India, adjoining north Pakistan and north Afghanistan.  On the monthly scale, most of the countries of the region are likely to experience normal to wetter-than-normal conditions during the first three months and drier-than-normal conditions in July.

The Australian Weather Office, widely respected for its forecasts, said the outlook for El Nino had increased. The El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) remains neutral; however, the chance of an El Nino occurring later in 2014 has increased. Climate models indicate the Pacific is likely to warm in coming months, with ocean surface temperatures reaching El Nino thresholds during the southern hemisphere winter.

In India, North India has seen unusually high winter rainfall in 2014. This has damaged apple and almond orchards and raised concerns about the wheat harvest that gathers momentum in April.

Monsoon usually arrives over the Indian subcontinent through the southern state of Kerala by end-May or the first week of June. The weather phenomenon brings about 70% of India's total rainfall.


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